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July 2000

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Video Reviews

Dario Argento, Director
Anchor Bay [DVD]

  Forget the great Italian locations, the flimsy story line, the bad dubbing, the tricky revelation of the murderer, the only thing that matters in this film is the amazing art direction and the spontaneous shriek-inducing ending. Not to reveal too much, but it is sufficient to say, you will believe a human head can pop right open with enough pressure.
   This is a must have for Argento fans, and a must see for anyone who likes cheesy Italian horror sculpted by the hands of a master. David Hemmings stars as an American musician who witnesses a horrible murder, while standing in an amazing plaza of course, and becomes the unwitting prey of the killer. While he rambles around town trying to figure out who the killer is, we meet cross dressers, drunks and a ditzy journalist whom our hero falls for.
   The film opens with an amazing shot through the reddest drapes you'll ever see (thank you digital color) and the hokiest psychic scene in the history of the story device. The killer is in the audience and while the psychic can tell what he did as a child, she is helpless to know where he is in the audience. An only partially psychic, psychic is a staple of any good murder mystery. There are also some amazing camera shots; pans and zooms that seem amazing in light of the equipment that Argento had available at the time.
   There are several noteworthy scenes scattered throughout this film. All well worth seeing. And many of the sleuthful devices used by our hero were probably pretty cutting edge at the time. Now the film is enjoyable as amusing history, and there is nothing wrong with that. The scene in the bathroom is especially fun.
   The one strange thing about the film is that some of the English dubs were lost along with some of the original Italian scenes. The result is that both soundtracks were used to make a complete film and you never know what language the characters are going to speak. One character may ask in question in poorly dubbed English and the other will answer in Italian. If your friends are drinking or anything else you might want to tell them about this before you throw DEEP RED on the disc player...or not. Extras include the Italian and English trailers, a featurette on the 25th Anniversary of the film, which is fun, and talent bios.

Jane Hinde
John Carpenter, Director
Anchor Bay [DVD]

   This is the grand daddy of 80's slasher films, and let me tell you, a lot was lost in the translation by the copycats. I hadn't watched this film in a few years, well a lot of years, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The story is standard horror fare, but Carpenter manages to make it fresh. Whether it was because of his cinematographer (Dean Cundey, who went on to shoot JURASSIC PARK and APOLLO 13), direction, music or cast choices is irrelevant. Somehow everything came together just right. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie, a girl in a small town who, unbeknownst to her or anyone else except the bogeyman, has a dark past. Donald Pleasence plays the psychiatrist who can shed light on the past and save the future. The darkness is the hulking masked figure of Michael Myers, who killed his sister with a carving knife after witnessing her having sex. This is the film that set the standard rules, but unlike it's poor relations, this one made you think twice about having sex while babysitting.
   One thing leads to another, people die and Jamie Lee is left alone to fend off the bogeyman and protect the children. There are scenes with sharp knives in this film that made me curl up into a ball making sure that all of my limbs and fingers were safely tucked away. This is scary good fun, but underneath it all, like all good campfire stories, is the air of possibility. Does the bogeyman exist? Are those bumps in the night just the wind, or something more sinister? We never see the face of the killer, it is hidden beneath an expressionless mask making Michael Myers the everyman of boogey.
   This is also a great looking DVD. Remastered into THX and transferred from a new interpositive (that's good boys and girls) the picture is fabulous. The extras include Widescrean (of course darling); original trailers; tv & radio spots; talent bios; behind the scenes stills and a featurette "Halloween Unmasked 2000". As a bonus the cover is 3D shot of the original poster. This is a fabulous DVD for the horror fan. Highly Recommended.
   Fortunately, he and Tyler Durden discover that fighting works even better to relieve the anomie; and a group grows up around them as men rush to this successful means of feeling alive. When Tyler takes Fight Club to another level, there are scenes of hilarious black humor involving the mindless threat of his Project Mayhem disciples. Some of the cinematic triumphs of this movie are only split-seconds long. There are fight scenes with the power and passion of a Michelangelo. Director David Fincher does not ask us to admire these, he simply uses them to build the mood and moves on. I can't say enough for his artistic integrity.
   The art direction is one of the many elements that deserved awards consideration: from the scene-setting, to the inner-structure graphics, to the final apocalyptic view that still leapt into my memory with little provocation 6 months later. There is no psychological validity to this movie, speaking scientifically, but hey! Suspend your disbelief & enjoy. If this still bothers you, read the book, which is a medium better suited to the psychological part of the material. The book also gave me an enjoyable evening.

Joy Calderwood

4 Episodes
Rhino [DVD]

H.R. Pufnstuf
   Oh the places you'll go. In the 60's and 70's psychidellia was so popular that the Osmonds owned the company that owned Sid & Marty Krofft. Hence HR PUFNSTUF (1969-73), one of the most colorful, mind-altering kids shows on TV was an Osmond production. I haven't seen an episode of PUFNSTUF in at least 20 years and I must say that it's pretty cool. I know Rhino says that this is a re release fo the kids, but come on, who's more childlike than a bunch of stoned gen-Xers? This DVD contains the first four episodes of the series and special features including a sing-a-long to the HR PUFNSTUF song as well as the theme to another Krofft favorite, SIGMUND THE SEAMONSTER. Also included is a strange Q & A with Jack Wild. The questions are printed, subtitle style over a picture of Wild which keeps changing expression as his voiceover answers the question, which is, overall, interesting if not a bit creepy.
   Hopefully you all remember the story of Jack (Jack Wild, the English kid who played the Artful Dodger in OLIVER TWIST) who innocently climbs into a magic boat which is owned by Witchiepoo. Jack has Freddy, the Magic Flute, and Whitchiepoo covets Freddy, so Jack goes on a one way trip to a Living Island where he is rescued by Pufnstuf, the Mayor of the Island, and his band of merry puppet friends. Each week Puf & friends would think up plans to get Jack back home and Witchiepoo and friends would think up ways to relieve Jack of Freddy. Comedy and wild color schemes ensue.
   The stories are contrived, and only the simplest of morals are learned. What I did notice, though, it that this was low stress, fun viewing. I recently saw two children's films, DINOSAUR and TITAN, AE, and I noticed that I was a little tense about the raptors that threatened the little dinosaurs and whether or not the humans would survive, but in HR Pufnstuf I just watched and laughed or was amazed. Not once did I worry that Jack would be eaten or become extinct. This was a plus for me as an adult and I can only imagine that kids might like a break from fears of world annihilation. Overall it was a dandy blast from the past, and it gave me one or two new ideas for Halloween.

Jane Hinde

Reviews continued in the next columntop
Reviews (cont'd)

George A. Romero, Director
Anchor Bay [DVD]

   While I pride myself on being a horror movie geek, every once in a while I run across something I've never heard of and am like a kid who has found a new type of candy. I am also hesitant when great "lost classics" from famous horror directors start showing up, and have come to think of "lost classic" as public relations speak for "student film." This is not the case with George Romero's MARTIN. I actually think I liked this better than NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. There are the same themes of alienation and mob mentality, but unlike the group in danger theme of DEAD, MARTIN concentrates on one lost soul.
   The opening scene is riveting. Martin, a handsome young man, is aboard a train and sees an equally attractive girl. He stalks her to her room and injects her with something. What is it? They struggle and something happens to make us ask more questions about this handsome young man. Is he a vampire, a lunatic, a serial killer? This is a movie about questions and appearances, and for the most part Romero allows us to live in ignorance and doubt. Martin both believes he is a vampire and denies it. His grandfather, who he has come to live with, is sure Martin is a 75 year old vampire that must be watched carefully. Others see him as an annoying young man, a sexual conquest or a celebrity.
   Shot in 1977, the film predicts the rise of the media frenzy. Martin becomes a regular to a call in radio show where the DJ dubbs him The Count. He recounts his troubled life, discounts vampire lore, and talks about his sex life. The Count becomes very popular and at the end when he stops calling in everyone calls in with their own opinion.
   There is also some marvelous direction and camera work in the film. The shots of Martin feeding are almost innocent looking. This is partially due to the child like face and manner of John Amplas who plays Martin, but also due to Romero's direction. Romero shows us Martin hiding behind a tree, stalking a new victim, the soft sunlight falling lace-like on Martin's hair and we are taken in as all adults are by children. There is not a lot of gore in the film by 90's standards, but the conflict scenes are tense and engaging in a way that pure splatter can never be. There is also a scene towards the end where Martin taunts his grandfather at night in the back yard by the swing set dressed up like Dracula that is so well done that MARTIN crosses over from cult film into art film.
   The ending, much like the ending in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is a shock and yet expected. For American audiences trained to expect the happy ending, most cult films are a shock, but isn't that why we love them. They challenge our beliefs and storm our comfort zones with metaphors and images we suspect exist, but spend most of our time denying. Romero's MARTIN is one such storm trooper and should not be missed. Extras include running commentary by Romero, Amplas and Tom Savini (Romero's makeup artist, and "Arthur" in the movie) that is really fun. It's like listening to family talking about the trials and tribulations of raising children. Of course in this case the children are celluloid and may or may not have fangs.

Carlye Archibeque

4 Episodes

My Favorite Martian

  I am helpless to stop myself from watching retro TV. There is something comforting about the old shows, shows before AIDS and automatic weapons. MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (1963-66) is one such show. I haven't watched but a few, commercial interrupted, episodes of it on cable in the past few years. So when I got this DVD to review, I settled down in front of the TV with a coke and some peanuts and didn't move for almost two hours. For those born under a rock or after 1970, the show was about a Martian (Ray Walston) who gets trapped on Earth and ends up living with journalist Tim O'Hara (Bill Bixby) while trying to repair his space ship and return to Mars. The rotating downstairs neighbors cause trouble with their links to the police and the innocent O'Hara is always causing trouble by misusing Uncle Martin's devices.
   It is one of these devices that give the theme to the 4 episodes on this particular DVD. Tim and Uncle Martin are displaced in time in a two parter where they go back to 1849 and are forced to travel across the old west to find the 1863 version of the time machine and get back to their own time, one hundred years in the future. Tim gets them in trouble by using a "counterfeit" Roosevelt dime to buy steak dinners and the fun begins. There is no real trauma here, we know they will return to their cute little apartment with the frilly curtains (there is a weird theme of 2 sweater clad men living is such a clean apartment, but maybe that's just me). In the next episode, Uncle Martin uses his time machine to bring Leonardo DiVinci to current time to help him fix his space ship. DiVinci (played to its hammy hilt by Michael Constantine) becomes a bit too independent when he discovers that his "stolen" painting, The Mona Lisa, is coming to town and Tim and Martin spend the show trying to track him down and return him. In the last episode, Tim uses the time machine for research and ruins the sale of Manhattan to the Dutch, thus relieving the US of one state, don't worry Big Apple fans, it all works our in the end.
   These were fun, and while only real fans may want to buy a copy, I would recommend at least renting MY FAVORITE MARTIAN to enjoy with friends.

Jane Hinde

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